Child Abduction Frequently Asked Questions

What is an abduction? 

A child abduction occurs when someone takes, entices away, keeps, withholds or conceals a child in violation of a custody or visitation order.

Can a family member abduct their own child?

The District Attorney's Office Child Abduction Unit is only involved when a parent or other family member abducts a child.  Not only does child abduction involve violation of Family Court, Juvenile Court and/or Probate Court orders, but it also involves a felony violation of the law.  The punishment for committing such a crime can be up to four years in prison and a $10,000 fine, even if the abductor is a family member!

Are there any exceptions?

A child may be taken or detained in violation of a custody or visitation order if there is a good faith and reasonable belief that the child(ren), if left with another person, will suffer immediate bodily injury or emotional harm.  However, if you do take your child(ren) under this exception, you must call the District Attorney's Office-Bureau of Investigation at (650) 363-4636 and follow the instructions you are given.  Be aware, that you must completely follow these instructions or the exception will not apply and you could face criminal charges.

What should you do if your child is abducted?

If possible, call the police and file a report.  They will require that you have certified copies of your most recent court orders regarding custody.  Also, ask the law enforcement agency to place your child in NCIC, the National Crime Information Computer System.  Immediately notify the District Attorney's Office-Bureau of Investigation at (650) 363-4636 during normal business hours.  For addition assistance, you may wish to call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at (800) 843-5678.

How can the District Attorney's Office assist you?

The Bureau of Investigation of the District Attorney's Office has the responsibility for locating and recovering children who have been taken or are being detained in violation of a custody order.  This includes children who are in San Mateo County or in any other county or state or even in foreign countries.  As long as you are a resident of San Mateo County, we can help.  From time to time, we can also assist parents from other states or countries when their child(ren) is abducted into San Mateo County.  To enlist the help of the District Attorney's Office-Bureau of Investigation, call us at (650) 363-4636.  For your convenience, you can also download our Investigative Summary Form below, follow the instructions on the first page and then call the office to schedule an appointment once you have the form filled out and the required documents. 

What is the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction?

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is a treaty that has been signed by more than 50 countries to expedite the return of children abducted by a family member to another country.  The Hague application, once completed, is forwarded to the foreign country where the child or children have been located.  This begins a process that eventually ends in a court hearing in that country to determine if the children should be returned to their country of habitual residence.  The court in the foreign country does not determine rights of custody or visitation.  The purpose of the hearing is strictly jurisdictional, that is, does the child belong in that country.  For addition information see International Parental Child Abduction.  You can print the Hague Application for Assistance form in English or Spanish.

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